If you’re looking to travel somewhere over the Thanksgiving to New Year’s season, you might consider Asheville, North Carolina. In this majestic mountain city is the annual National Gingerbread House Competition. And, it’s the perfect reason to take a day trip if you live nearby. Or, you want something to do besides driving the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We have the good fortune of living 90 minutes from Asheville. So, we only have to hop on the highway while our children nap and we’re in Asheville when they wake up.
Whether you want to go next year. Or, live on the other side of the country and can’t justify the trip, here are some more details to see world-class gingerbread creations.
To be clear, don’t come to Asheville only to look at the gingerbreads. It takes two or three hours at most to see the different houses. If you happen to be in the area, it’s worth a visit.
Since you only need a few hours, this is perfect if you have small children with lots of energy (us) or you’re not one to browse gingerbread houses for hours on end like
We use Ebates to save money when booking travel. Get a $10 bonus on your first $25 purchase.
What is the National Gingerbread House Competition?
The 2018 National Gingerbread House Competition is the 26th annual competition. This friendly competition started between local Asheville residents. It went “national” some years back and is held each year at the swanky
Omni Grove Park Inn.
Children and adults create edible gingerbread creations. You can view the “Top 10” winners and the other entries. Some of the entries look like gingerbread houses that we make. Others are less traditional.
When To Visit
The following is from the National Gingerbread House Competition website to help you decide when to visit:
The Omni Grove Park Inn invites guests not staying at the resort to view the display after 3:00 p.m. on Sundays or anytime Monday through Thursday, based on parking availability and excluding holidays (December 23, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, 31 and January 1, 2019). Please note that only Registered Resort Pets will be permitted. No outside pets will be allowed.
You May Have to Be a Resort Guest
Although the competition is open to the public, you just can’t see it whenever you like. Certain days are only for hotel guests only. Read the italicized quotes above to see when you must book a room at the Grove Park Inn to see the displays.
Try Arriving Before 10 AM (If you’re not a resort guest)
When the general public can visit, occupancy is limited to the number of general parking spots. For instance, we arrived one time at 3 pm. The parking lot was full. So, us and about 10 cars ahead of us had to turn around at the gate with the assistance of the local police department.
Instead, try arriving before 10 AM. We have visited the competition twice. The first time, we arrived around 10-10:15 am and got one of the last spots. This year, we got there around 9 am and were able to easily find a spot, but the lot was almost full and filling up quickly.
Also, it costs $20 to park your car. This is the only fee you must pay to see the gingerbread houses.
This year, we spent the night using the hotel points at a local Asheville hotel so we could arrive early. Plus, our girls think the hotel experience is fun.
The Gingerbread Houses Are In Two Different Areas
What we didn’t realize the first year was that the gingerbread houses are in two different areas of the hotel. When you walk into the front doors of the lobby, you must visit the right and left wings to see them all.
Our children were hungry (plus the parents too) the first year, so going on a scavenger hunt wasn’t on the list. Plus, the one staff member we asked wasn’t that helpful. Don’t worry, this year the staff was super helpful and told us where to go.
While the Grove Park Inn is majestic, the hotel is a labyrinth. And, the National Gingerbread House Competition isn’t exactly publicized. In some ways, it’s on a “need to know” basis. So, here are some tips to help you find both display areas.
Sammons Wing (The Top 10 Winners)
When you first go into the lobby, turn right toward the Sammons Wing. Keep walking and you will see several tables with the “Top 10” winners for children, teens, and adults. You won’t see the grand prize winner in this wing. That’s in the Vanderbilt Wing.
Once you arrive, the route is relatively self-explanatory. Just follow the crowd until the end of the wing where a restaurant is.
Also, the displays in this wing are all on the lobby level (9th floor). You don’t have to go up or down any stairs or elevators to see the Top 10.
Vanderbilt Wing (Non-Winners and the Grand Prize Winner)
These displays are more tucked away and what we missed the first year we attended. For the Vanderbilt Wing, turn left and meander through the halls. I’ll be honest, it was a little bit of a scavenger hunt. But, look for the elevators or ask some people in the hallways. You need to go down two floors (7th floor) to see the other entrants that aren’t in the Top 10.
In this wing, the Grand Prize Winner and other entrants are on the lobby level (9th floor) near one of the elevators.
Other Things to Do In Asheville
We enjoy the National Gingerbread House Competition, but it’s not the only reason to enjoy Asheville.
If you’ve never been to this city, it’s different to say the least. Asheville is surrounded by the mountains, so there’s plenty to do if you love being outdoors. But, it’s also been labeled the “San Francisco of the East” by Rolling Stone so it’s not hard to find politically liberal/New Age/”crunchy” elements either.
If you’re in downtown Asheville (not necessarily the surrounding towns), don’t be surprised if you see a few “Keep Asheville Weird” signs or bumper stickers. Plus, there are probably more Toyota Prius per capita in Asheville than any other city with a population of 89,121 denizens.
Below are a few activities you might enjoy that we enjoy. When we’re not looking at gingerbread creations.
Shopping and Fine Cuisine
We live in a relatively small town, where Walmart, and the ubiquitous dollar stores and fast food chains prevail. So, we like Asheville because you can find local restaurants and shops with good prices.
If you’re into vegan, organic, or clean eating, there’s plenty of restaurants. This is the “weird” side of Asheville we enjoy most.
For food, we like the Green Sage Cafe. There are a few locations in town. They have vegan and non-vegan food. The options are 95% organic and aren’t terribly priced. This year, we got a sandwich, a salad, and a child’s sandwich for $28. Not bad.
We also stumbled across a children’s consignment shop that had good deals on snowsuits. In the Sweeten Creek area of Asheville, there are several antique shops. We walk these because my wife and I enjoy looking at old things that aren’t mass produced overseas.
There’s plenty of chain restaurants and stores in the downtown area and the outlying highway exits too. But, if you want to shop local, you won’t have a problem doing that.
Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
My wife and I enjoy the outdoors. When we were dating, we took several day trips to the Asheville area to hike in state and federal forests. Plus, to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. There’s one on-ramp near Asheville, then you can either go north toward Virginia or south to Cherokee, TN where the parkway ends.
See the Biltmore Estate
This idea requires you to lay down some money, but it’s cheaper than a plane ticket to Europe. If you enjoy Downton Abbey and the Gilded Age, you will like the Biltmore Estate.
Depending on the season and which package you choose, you can pay between $45 and $60 per adult and $30 for children. Like I said, it’s not cheap and my wife and I only did this once when we were dating.
The tickets include a self-guided tour of the house. It takes about an hour to see the different rooms. This house is massive and you only see a few rooms. When you don’t visit the house, you can visit the on-site winery for free tastings (if that’s your thing) and also tour the gardens. The gardens can be pleasant in the spring, summer, and early fall.
During the winter, you can visit the Biltmore at night. This costs extra, but it’s a seasonal tradition that jives with the Gingerbread Competition. My wife and I would like to do this one day, but that’ll be for a different day.